Smokers find loophole in ban at beach parks

Published On: Jul 12 2013 06:28:45 PM HST
Updated On: Jul 12 2013 10:22:04 PM HST

Honolulu's new smoking ban could backfire. Instead of forcing cigarettes off the beach, the new law could actually push smokers closer to the water.

HONOLULU -

A new smoking ban at all 284 city parks on Oahu is expected to be signed into law by Mayor Kirk Caldwell after being passed Wednesday by the City Council.

But even before the law goes into effect on Jan. 1, smokers have found a gaping loophole that permits smoking at any beach park, as long as you're at the water's edge.

"We would line up all along the beach with our ankles wet in the water and enjoy our tobacco, because if you in the water, it's OK," said Kawika Crowley with the Hawaii Smokers Alliance.

In actuality, standing on the high water mark, where dry sand meets wet sand, would prevent smokers from being cited by police at parks like Ala Moana, where a smoking ban is already in effect on all the sandy areas.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell says the loophole is problematic, but he hopes smokers will follow the spirit of the law.

"If you have a sign saying ‘no smoking’ in this park, most people will take that literally and not smoke on the beach or down by the water," said Caldwell. "For those few who do, we're going to have to deal with it."

The high water mark is controlled by the Department of Land and Natural Resources, but spokeswoman Deborah Ward says the state agency would likely be required to write new administrative rules to ban smoking in such areas. Ward said conservation officers would help with enforcement as much as possible when the city ordinance takes effect in six months.

"While the smoking ban is an issue for City and County enforcement, the State will support the enforcement as much as possible, and in addition the State DOCARE will continue to enforce state laws that prohibit carelessness with fire, littering, and water pollution (i.e. from cigarette butts, etc.)," Ward wrote in an email. "We urge the public to be respectful of the environment and the community, and properly dispose of all trash in appropriate receptacles."

Stuart Coleman, Hawaii coordinator with the Surfrider Foundation, lobbied the City Council for more than a year to pass the smoking ban at city parks. Although enforcement of littering laws won't close the loophole, Coleman hopes police will crack down on smokers who discard their butts in the ocean.

"It's still illegal to litter, so if they're doing that, people will be watching them like hawks," Coleman told KITV4. "It's about self-enforcement and respecting others' rights, and so that's what I think we're counting on."

Crowley believes the City Council could have come up with a reasonable compromise by designating exclusive smoking areas at city parks, instead of an all-out ban.

"You'd be surprised how courteous smokers are nowadays," said Crowley. "Smokers would have gone easily (to those areas)."     

Caldwell said he doesn't know if DLNR Director William Aila will address the issue of smoking on the high water mark, but he plans on starting the discussion.  

"I don't know what he can do, if anything, but we'll bring it up with him," said the mayor.

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